My “Nice Place”

For those of you keeping score at home, I am rather newly single. My marriage of twelve years ended in divorce in July of this year. If this comes as news to you, I regret that you are finding out this way. I hasten to add, lest you be inclined to worry, that I am doing just fine. I am in fact doing rather well, perhaps better than I feel like I have a right to be doing. On good days, I don’t second-guess how well I am doing and simply enjoy my life.

One thing, though, just doesn’t feel right: My apartment.

I moved out of the house my ex-wife and I shared in April and into a second-floor loft thing with two bedrooms and a full bath on a third floor. It is what is commonly known as a nice place. It’s in a nice part of town, everything works and is clean, the landlords respond to service calls and questions quickly. I haven’t done a lot of entertaining, but everyone who comes over expresses more or less the same sentiment: This is a nice place. More than one person, including my mother, has told me that the place would be great for having women over. Not that I am looking to do that sort of entertaining at the moment, but I can kinda see what people mean. This is a nice place.

I hate it. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.

Let’s set to one side for a moment the fact that the rent is high (by local standards; my friends in denser markets would kill for the rent I pay here). This place is, well, just too nice. It’s like a really wonderful hotel room. It has no character. I like to think I know character. My apartment in graduate school had character. It was built in the forties and still had plaster walls. It had color-flecked laminate flooring in the kitchen that laid down in giant sheets that were curling and cracking around the edges. And that floor was profoundly dirty. I kid you not, it had grime on it dating back to the Ford Administration on the kitchen floor. The place had radiator heat that was out of control in the winter; I had to strip down at the door to avoid getting bathed in sweat.

The place was not quite a shambles; it was well-maintained for its age and quiet. But it had obviously seen a fair few winters. It was great.

Where I live now is too put together. It conveys an image of middlebrow achievement, of heroic competence, that is utterly at odds with my personality. And it has a fireplace, which is just comically swank, like a new college grad wearing his first interview suit out to pick up women. I currently have the thing blocked in with twenty boxes full of philosophy books, which seems about right.

I am doing well, but I am not really what one would call put together. A lot of people think I am. This is what is called “fooling the world.” I think I can fake being put together pretty well; in fact, I have been faking it for years. I am both practiced at this act and clever. My high school classmates voted me “Most Likely to Succeed,” which shows just how long I have been at it.

Underneath it all, though, I am not Competent Guy.

I am not quite a shambles, either. I’m just complicated: A drafty old place with spiral stairs and half the windows painted shut and radiators that you can’t turn off. The roof leaks and the front door has about twelve locks on it from a crazy old previous resident. It’s also subtly and unmistakably dirty. But it somehow all hangs together. And I think that one may as well live in surroundings that reflect one’s personality. Life is too short to put on an act forever.

So much to the chagrin of my family and local friends, I think I shall be moving when my lease is up next year. This place is nice, but it’s too safe and clean, too sterile and empty. It’s not alive. It’s the kind of place my separated self thought would deflect questions and quizzical looks. I shall winter here, but come spring, it’s off to someplace alive.

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